Queens court considers new DNA evidence in 26-year-old murder case

Queens Criminal Court.  Eagle  file photo by Andy Katz

Queens Criminal Court. Eagle file photo by Andy Katz

By David Brand

A court hearing 26 years in the making began Monday in Queens Criminal Court, where a DNA expert’s testimony could help overturn a second-degree murder conviction.

Michael Robinson was convicted in 1993 of killing his estranged wife at the home of an elderly woman, where his wife worked as a home health aide. Robinson has maintained his innocence since his conviction at jury trial and was released from prison earlier this year.

Robinson, dressed in a slate suit, sat with a team of four defense attorneys from the Legal Aid Society as they questioned DNA expert Mark Perlin, whose proprietary DNA examination tool, TrueAllele Casework, analyzed DNA evidence found on the fingernails of the murder victim.

The test performed by TrueAllele indicated that the genetic material is 78 trillion times more likely to match someone else other than Robinson. 

Perlin testified that his company Cybergenetics contracted with the Officer of the Chief Medical Examiner to perform TrueAllele testing in 2005 to identify the remains of people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center.

Prosecutors in four different New York jurisdictions have commissioned TrueAllele to perform DNA testing on their behalf, as has the attorney general of Pennsylvania, Perlin said. 

He was intermittently interrupted by Justice Stephen Knopf who criticized his posture on the witness stand — he sat partially facing the judge at first — and admonished him to speak louder on several occasions. Knopf also urged defense attorneys to speed up their line of questioning during examination.

The Queens DA’s Office contends that another DNA examination by the city’s OCME could not return results that conclusively ruled out or included Robinson as a potential DNA sample contributor.

Veteran prosecutor Brad Leventhal will argue the DA’s case, less than six months after he handled the retrial of Chanel Lewis, a man convicted of killing Howard Beach resident Karina Vetrano while she jogged near her home. Leventhal’s key piece of evidence in that case was DNA found on Vetrano’s neck, phone and fingernails. Examiners determined that the genetic material was 6.8 trillion times more likely to match Lewis than another person.

This time around, Leventhal will argue against the astronomical likelihood ratio of a DNA test.

Defense attorneys at Robinson’s 1993 trial said the elderly woman’s eyewitness statements were unreliable because she had vision problems and pointed to several alibi witnesses who spoke on Robinson’s behalf. A jury convicted him nonetheless.

Monday’s hearing was adjourned until Oct. 11 for further testimony.